The library has a new inhabitant, a child is born, a lovely person in every way, but alas, not yet a reader. Becoming a parent has predictably changed my reading habits and as I do have a few moments to spare I thought that I should write down a few quick notes on how it has influenced my reading so far.
Since the child was born I have not read anything in any paper book longer than a picture book.
Of the picture books I have read I was happily surprised to find that Tomtebobarnen by Elsa Beskow, bought for the lovely illustrations, was not too dated to be enjoyable, despite being first published in 1910. I look forward to reading it aloud in the future.
Even more surprisingly, I have actually managed to read a few classical crime novels (more Ngaio Marsh) on my phone. Before having a child I never read on my phone but I’m pumping which, although inconvenient in many ways, does give me regular child-free intervals with little to do but looking at my phone.
I have also found that a child can be a great aid for memorizing texts. As long as they are set to a child friendly tune I have endless opportunities to repeat them until I know them by heart. Although I guess I should adjust my repertoire before she grows old enough to understand the texts, I currently sing a lot of songs by 18th century troubadour Carl Michael Bellman and while they are more fun to sing than most children’s songs, they are rather heavy on the drinking.
The first thing I bought for my unborn child was a book. Arguably not the most urgent thing for a soon to be parent to buy (it wasn’t even a board book), but a first step in believing that the small movement in my stomach was a tiny human being who would one day emerge in the outside world. Since then I have inherited and bought many more immediately useful things, but I have also thought about and bought even more children’s books.
Of course this is not a completely new interest, children’s literature have a fairly high status in Sweden and I have been regularly rereading classics by e.g. AstridLindgren and ToveJansson, but my focus has mostly been on middle grade books. Looking at books for somewhat younger ages has made me realize that picture books and middle grade books share the interesting position of regularly having two readers, a child and an adult reading it aloud, and that the best children’s authors and illustrators take full advantage of this, creating art that is interesting on multiple levels without forgetting that the child is the primary audience. I believe that these additional depths, whether they are in the text itself, in the illustrations, or in the juxtaposition between the two, are what elevates a few children’s books into classics. Tove Jansson and Sven Nordqvist are both authors and illustrators that create this type of books.
In contrast my least favourite children’s books are probably the ones that are made primarily for the adult. These may include jokes intended for the adult that are confusing for the child, a nice moral that the adult may want to teach, but that is presented in a way that is harming the story, or be a book that is only published because it is by a famous author or brand that the adult will recognize.
Somewhere in between are the books that are written exclusively for the child, with their interests and enjoyment as the only goal. I don’t mind those, but I also won’t go out of my way to buy them before I know what my child’s interests actually are. Ideally these would be the books that I would borrow from a library, but as I’m not living in Sweden I guess I will have to be more liberal with my book buying.
As you may expect from this post my reading and blogging habits will probably remain irregular for the foreseeable future, but I hope that you will stick around for my rare posts anyway.
It is hard to keep up a book blog when you are not reading very much, but fortunately there have been some gems among the the few books I have read during the last few months.
Winter’s child by Dea Trier Mørch
Dea Trier Mørch is the author of one of my favourite novels, Kastaniealleen, which I don’t think have been translated into English, but this was my first read of her most famous work. Winter’s child is set in a maternity ward in Copenhagen during the 1970s. As I’ve understood it Mørch got frustrated by the lack of realistic descriptions of pregnancies and labour in art and literature, and wrote the novel to fill that void. I believe that she was successful, by framing it as a collective novel, although we do get to follow some characters closer than others, she is able to cover a wide range of experiences. Of course this also means that not every storyline has a happy ending, but overall I found it to be a warm and optimistic read, and I did like it very much. A few aspects in the writing and story seemed dated, e.g. I doubt wine is served in modern Danish maternity wards, and the author’s socialist leanings makes it slightly dogmatic in some places, but that slightly dated aspect that also helped soften some of the sadder outcomes. The novel is illustrated by the author’s own prints.
The housekeeper and the professor by Yoko Ogawa
Very different from the previous novel, but another really good read, The housekeeper and the professor is a quiet and sweet story about the friendship between a professor who has lost his ability to form new long-term memories, his housekeeper, and her son. As a former professor in mathematics numbers are one of the few things that remain constant in the professor’s life, something he can rely on when his memories are always lost, and numbers and mathematical theories form a large part of the communication between the three. I have read novels with a mathematical theme before, and despite loving mathematics I rarely think that they work, but this one I really enjoyed.
Short answer, unfortunately not very much. Summers are usually my best reading time, but with a new house and everything my energy seems to have been spent elsewhere this year. Anyway, some books have been read, and I believe a short blog update is long overdue.
In total I have read 48 books this year by authors born in 14 different countries. New Zeeland is unexpectedly dominating the statistics, but that is just because I bought an ebook containg a collected edition of Ngoi Marsh’s detective novels, and have been reading them whenever I need a light read. This has apparently often been the case, my spreadsheet tells me that by now I have read 18 of her novels (Opening night was my favourite among the ones I have read most recently).
Selected recent reads
The first read I would like to highlight is Tower by Bae Myuung-Hoon. I thought that it would be fun to try a South Korean science fiction novel, but having read nothing about it beforehand I wasn’t expecting how memorable many of these interconnected short stories would actually turn out to be. In a year of mostly unremarkable reads, this one was a really good find.
Otherwise my most memorable recent read has been a short story collection by Madeleine Bourdouxhe, containing Sept nouvelles and Sous le Pont Mirabeau (translated into Swedish). The short stories were all very good, but it was Sous le Pont Mirabeau, her short memoir on the WWII attack on Brussels while she was still in a maternity ward, that really stuck with me.
With an upcoming move I haven’t been able to focus much on reading. Instead TV-series have been my main source of entertainment, which has lead me to a curious observation, several of my current favourite series involve time travel in one way or another. In a way this is perhaps not surprising, I grew up with Star Trek (Voyager), which taught me to appreciate good adventures, characters who mostly cooperate without too much drama, a little bit of technobabble, and of course, a good time travel plot. It is probably also relevant that I’m looking for escapism and relaxation when I watch TV, if I wanted something challenging I would be reading. These are a few of the series I have been watching lately:
Travelers is a Canadian time travel drama in which the consciousness of travelers from the future take over the bodies of people in the present day right before they are supposed to die. These travelers are tasked with the mission to save Earth from the disaster that is the future, but they also have to keep on living the lives of their host bodies with all the challenges that involves. It is an interesting premise which I think works really well. It also means that everything takes place in the present day, which I’m sure was good for the budget.The story is a bit uneven and not every story line is equally interesting, but it is still my favourite on the list.
Legends of tomorrow
Superhero series are everywhere these days but Legends of tomorrow is the only one that I follow. It is a completely ridiculous story about a bunch of misfit superheros who travel through time to save the world from various threats, but it embraces its ridiculousness and makes the most out of it. The main reason I watch it is for the character interactions, I love the way these misfit characters (mostly) support each other during their adventures. Avoid the first season which is terrible. Motto: We screw things up for the better.
My latest addition to the list is Parallèles, a French time travel drama in which four teenagers end up in different time lines after an incident. It is probably the most derivative of all the series on my list, a fairly straight forward time travel plot that I think would be a suitable also for rather young teenagers, but it was well acted, had likable characters, and was intriguing enough to keep me interested to the end. Unlike the other two series on my list it was also fairly short, which I’m sure helped to keep it interesting.
Have you seen any of these series? What did you think? Can you recommend any other time travel series that I should watch?
Well, that was an intense month. After month after month of boring pandemic nothingness everything suddenly decided to happen at once. I had hoped that world would be allowed to emerge from from the pandemic without stumbling directly into the next disaster, but no such luck.
However, for me personally most of February has actually been really good; almost all the Norwegian pandemic restrictions have been lifted, including, to my great relief, all border restrictions (for me the stress of being cut off from my family has been by far the worst part of the pandemic), at work we are taking the first steps to start a new cool research project, and last, but certainly not least, we have just bought our first house.
The house is also the reason for my poor reading in February, I admit to having read little but glossy interior and garden magazines for the last month as I eagerly await our move and plan my new library (given the choice between dining room or library I obviously choose library). However, I hope that after the move, and in-between all the obligations I’m sure that house-owning entails, I will be able to spend some time reading in my new library, or even in the new garden (our current “garden” is a depressing piece of asphalt used for parking, so getting a real one is exciting).
I thus expect to be even less active than usual during the next few months, but I do expect to come back, perhaps with some photos of the library…
I had planned to take a very active part in the ReadIndies month, but life got in the way and I have only now finished my first (only?) read for the challenge. Fortunately I have really enjoyed the book I have read; Water, ice and stone by Bill Green is a science memoir by a geochemist working on the lakes in the Dry Valleys in Antarctica. I don’t read very much popular science, as a scientist myself I have a hard time finding books, even from other fields, that are on an appropriate level, but I do love a good science memoir, and if it is set on Antarctica, a region I have always wanted to work in, well, that is even better.
Unfortunately a busy month meant that I read it in bits and pieces, loosing track of some of the people and some of the lakes along the way. However, this didn’t do much to detract from my enjoyment of the book. What I’m primarily looking for in a science memoir is an infectious love and fascination for science and an ability to move effortlessly between science, art and life, showing the broader picture of why we do science, and I certainly got that. Not being a great fan of lab work I have tended to think of geochemistry as an important but somewhat boring branch of geoscience. However, the way Bill Green tells the story is absolutely fascinating and I’m grateful for the opportunity to see geochemistry through his eyes!
Not surprisingly it was published by Bellevue Literary Press, a really interesting publisher focused on the intersection between art and science. During last year’s ReadIndies challenge I read A Matematician’s Lament and later in the year A Wilder Time, which was another memoir, written by a geologist working in Greenland. I never got around to reviewing A Wilder Time, but it was probably my favorite of the three.
January isn’t really over yet but I think I can already conclude that it has been a good reading month. I’m hoping to read books by authors from 30 countries this year, and wanted my January reads to give me a good start. I have certainly succeeded in that, the authors of the 16 books I have read so far were born in 12(!) different countries. I know that it will be harder from now on, but it should be doable.
Memorable first time reads
Blomsterdalen by Niviaq Korneliussen (Greenland/Denmark)
My garden by Jamaica Kincaid (Antigua and Barbuda)
Gubbas hage by Kerstin Ekman (Sweden)
January was also the time to read the second book in the Narniathon, Prince Caspian. I remember liking Prince Caspian as a child but it was never one of my Narnia favourites. Nevertheless I must have read it many times because almost all plot points were still clear to my memory as I reread it.
Reading it again as an adult I still love the beginning where the Pevensie children return to Narnia. Their rediscovery of Narnia, and Caspian’s discovery of “old” Narnia, are some of the real highlights of this book. I’m less enchanted by the second half of the book. In the first half of the book all plot threads are gradually coming together, but then they seem to disperse again and I feel that the story loses direction a bit. I’m also a bit distracted by some of the human activities that feel out of place in Narnia (schools etc.). What I do like in this book is how much more competent the Pevensie children are. I never liked Edmund’s role in the first book, although I can see that it was necessary for the plot, but in this installment both he and Susan have nicer roles. As I’m strongly in favour of competent main characters, this is a pleasant change. All in all I stand by my childhood assessment that this is a good installment in the chronicles of Narnia, but not one of the very best ones.
February is the ReadIndies month, which I’m really looking forward to. I have a good selection of possible reads on my TBR shelf (see below), and I might easily end up buying more along the way.
Map indicating the author’s country of birth for all the books I have read in 2021
So, 2021 is finally over. It did have some highlights, but for a large part it was a dreary, exhausting year (I hate border closures with all my heart). Blogging largely fell to the side in pure exhaustion, but I did read quite a bit. Exactly 100 books in total.
As usual I read most of the books in English (64), followed by Swedish (30) and Norwegian (6). 53 of the books were written by women and 47 by men, a surprisingly even split. Authors from the United Kingdom (33) dominated, followed by Swedish (16) and US authors (11), but authors born in 31 different countries (a new record since I started to keep track!) were represented in my reads. In addition the books were published in 17 different decades.
Early in my blogging days I started the 30-20-10 challenge where the goal was to read books by authors from 30 countries, 20 books written by a woman and 20 by man, and in 10 different decades. At that time I had no real intention of finishing in one year (and I didn’t), but it pushed me to broaden my reading and in 2021 I succeeded without even trying, which feels really good.
I loved the ReadIndies month that Karen and Lizzie hosted last year and really look forward to the 2022 edition. In addition I plan to join the Narniathon, but other than that my ambition is to read often, widely, but most of all for enjoyment.